[by Andrew Goh]
There was once a time when I was a young, impressionable child fascinated by dinosaurs and anything that remotely resembled them. It was then I first discovered the Alien franchise and fell in love, even though fear of the alien creature kept me awake most nights, imagining things lurking in every corner.
Over the years, my love for the franchise blended with my love for video games; I wanted, needed to see an Alien game that mirrored the glory of the first two films. The games that did come out, though, were average at best, horrendous at most; none more so than Aliens: Colonial Marines. After that, I lost hope for a decent Alien video game, and resigned myself to seeing more terrible games being churned out.
And then SEGA, along with Creative Assembly, announced Alien: Isolation. I was skeptical, but I watched the trailers, regardless. It promised a radically-different approach from the other Alien games; instead of the blinding, rapid-guns-blazing approach I’d seen in the past, it brought stealth-based gameplay incorporated around hiding, sneaking and distraction. I was instantly transfixed.
Gamers everywhere were skeptical. They wouldn’t preorder, they said, especially not after the disaster that was Colonial Marines. Never again, SEGA. They were right, I knew. But against my better judgment, I pre-ordered the game, and waited for release day.
When the day came, I booted the game up and took a look for myself. And in it, I found a game finally worthy of the Alien franchise as a whole.
To begin with, Isolation isn’t like Colonial Marines, or even any other first-person/third-person shooters I was used to. You only have three weapons in the game – a revolver, a wrench and a flamethrower – and two kinds of explosives, plus a motion tracker and several non-combat items designed to distract and lure the enemy, such as the ‘noisemaker’, a device that emits noise and draws either hostile humans and androids – or the titular alien itself. Should you choose to employ a path of violence, you’ll either end up dying again and again, or hiding in closets and lockers as the alien itself comes knocking.
But perhaps I digress. Let’s go back to the setting. Playing the role of Ellen Ripley’s (main character in the first three films) daughter, Amanda Ripley, you attempt to find out just why ‘your’ mother disappeared 15 years ago, seeking answers on a space station known as Sevastopol.
In real life, Sevastopol is a port city located in the Crimean Peninsula along the Black Sea, and the name was extremely fitting for the space station – dusty, nearly-derelict and located on the frontiers of known space, it had the ‘down-on-its-luck port city’ feel down pat. Setting foot on the station itself did nothing to change that feeling of isolation (no pun intended), of things ending.
The game itself? Well… although it ticks the boxes needed for a survivor horror game, it doesn’t quite feel like one – at least, not after you’ve evaded the alien for a few chapters (although in all fairness, the blank stares and calm responses of the androids trying to bash your head in make up for the lack of horror from the alien). By then, tension replaces horror; the mad scramble towards save stations and quest objectives always come with a burst of adrenaline as you hear banging in the vents, or footsteps on the floors, or just the motion tracker’s beeping and wonder if it’s behind you yet – although actually dying doesn’t really scare you, once you’re used to it (and yes, you will die a lot trying to figure the alien out).
And the alien itself! It’s a perfect organism (spot the reference?) and despite its hostility and your avoiding it, you can’t help but admire Creative Assembly’s meticulousness in putting the creature together. Its movements are measured, thoughtful, even, as if it’s but a child learning to take its first steps. In some ways, it’s unsettling, especially considering that the alien sprouted from a human host (and took their attributes in the process) – meaning it’s not so alien after all.
The plot draws heavily from the first film as well, and without delving into spoilers, it’s more a homage to the first film than the franchise as a whole – the derelict alien ship from the first game and LV247, the asteroid where everything began, make a reappearance in this game, and seeing them was like discovering a lost love. There’s also some allusions and content drawn from Prometheus and Aliens, although said references are negligible, barely there at all – but if you’re well-versed with the series, they’re fun Easter eggs to discover.
Ultimately, it’s definitely a game anyone should play, regardless of whether they’re fans of the Alien films. The plot is solid, the gameplay is excellent, and the graphics are sublime, a perfect video game recreation of the first film. Anyone expecting a firefight will be sorely disappointed, but if you’re happy enough to sneak around for hours on end, you’ll have a brilliant game (and narrative) to look forward to.